GREEN BAY – They still talk quite frequently, including a lengthy chat earlier this week, and conversations between former college teammates Clay Matthews and Brian Cushing sometimes have yielded advice.
When Matthews moved to inside linebacker in 2014, he first sought his father’s guidance. Clay Matthews Sr. played 19 seasons as an NFL linebacker. He earned four Pro Bowl trips in a five-year span and was named a Hall of Fame semifinalist this month.
Some of Matthews’ most helpful counsel might have come from Cushing. Though the Houston Texans' eighth-year inside linebacker spent much of his career in a 4-3 base defense, different than the Green Bay Packers' base 3-4, Cushing said he has talked in the past about Matthews’ move inside.
“There’s certain things,” Cushing said, “I think he’s asked me just kind of what I think about just the inside (linebacker) perspective, what helps with my game, what do I do. And same thing if I was to ever move outside, I’d ask him.”
Matthews, who lined up next to Cushing at USC, might deploy some of those lessons Sunday when the Packers host the Texans.
After playing outside linebacker through the season’s first 10 games, Matthews returned to inside linebacker Monday night at the Philadelphia Eagles. He played alongside Joe Thomas primarily in the Packers' nickel defense, only leaving the field to have his left shoulder examined by the team’s medical staff after a vicious block from Eagles right guard Allen Barbre.
Matthews’ move was made out of necessity, with starters Jake Ryan and Blake Martinez inactive because of injury. He likely wouldn’t stay at inside linebacker if Ryan or Martinez were available Sunday.
Ryan had a chance to play against the Eagles, but was a late scratch with an ankle injury. Martinez will start Thursday’s practice rehabbing his knee, coach Mike McCarthy said, but could do some regular drills near the end.
“We’re just paper thin at the position,” Matthews said. “It’s just natural after a year and a half of having inside linebacker experience just go back there. It was very natural to switch. Some new terminology to learn and stay up to date on with. For the most part, I felt like I was ready to rock.
“Once we got into the game, Joe and I, I felt getting back in there, we knew our job responsibilities, knew where to be. I think for the most part we did a good job.”
Matthews still provides plenty of production from the outside linebacker position. Though he isn’t playing at an All-Pro level — perhaps because of injuries — he remains the Packers' top pass rusher with four sacks in seven games.
Regardless, playing inside linebacker might not be the worst idea. Matthews earned Pro Bowl trips as an inside linebacker each of the past two seasons.
When Cushing watches his former teammate play inside, he’s impressed.
“As an inside linebacker,” Cushing said, “you’re kind of in the middle of the action every single play. That’s kind of why I’ve always preferred playing inside, but Clay’s skill set is definitely different too. He’s got an extreme skill set and very talented on the edge. He’s always had that skill to him, and really refined it over the years.
“Obviously he enjoys outside more, but he’ll never complain or be upset about the fact. He’s going to do whatever is best for the team. He’s done it for two years, and if he was asked to do it again, I’m sure he would. That’s just the kind of player he is.”
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